How audiences can provide safety and sustainability | #mediadev | DW | 26.05.2021
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media safety

How audiences can provide safety and sustainability

Community radios face specific challenges in times of crisis. Two radio managers from Burkina Faso discuss how having a closer relationship with your listeners can protect you.

DW Akademie Amnatou Ouarmé

Closely engaged with the community: Reporting for "La voix du Paysan" in Burkina Faso

The West African country Burkina Faso has one of the most diverse and pluralistic media landscapes on the African continent. It was considered one of the most stable countries in the Sahel for decades, but from late 2018 onwards attacks by militant groups and local ethnic conflicts made it one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Africa. The increasingly tense security situation–especially in the north of the country–plus the COVID-19 pandemic have made the media’s work even more difficult.

Community radios La Voix du Paysan and Radio Vénégré have found innovative ways to engage closely with their audiences and thereby mitigate safety issues, which in turn also improves their financial situation.

In this interview, Adama Sougouri, Director of Radio La Voix du Paysan and Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo, Director of Radio Vénégré, discuss the specific challenges for community radio stations and how having a closer relationship with your listeners can protect you from physical attacks, financial hardship, and even food scarcity in times of crisis.

DW Akademie: La Voix du Paysan and Radio Vénégré are both community radio stations—how are you dealing with the current crisis?

Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo: There are a lot of challenges. Lack of funds is the most pressing one. We are living in a difficult region with rising tensions, in one of the poorest countries in the world. The advertising market here is not very developed, state regulations limit access to the advertising market for community radio and there is now hardly any income from small advertisers as small businessmen and -women don’t have the money to spend on ads. Moreover, Radio Vénégré is only 35km away from the capital Ouagadougou—so companies prefer to focus on paying for ads directly in Ouagadougou, or in areas that are further away. And international donors or NGOs prefer to support stations in more rural areas.

The second biggest challenge has to do with the fact that we are working with volunteers, so professionalization is low. Our volunteers often also have other jobs—but they consider their work as journalists so important that they additionally work for us. This all leads to the fact that especially in the community radio sector there exists a great need for professionalization. In addition, we have insufficient equipment, no repair services close by, very bad Internet connectivity and as a result only limited use of social media. On top of this, we must deal with climatic conditions like thunderstorms, strong winds and so on. Another common problem for community radio in Burkina Faso is that often there is no professional management of the stations.

Adama Sougouri: For us in the north of the country, the biggest challenges right now are the security situation and the pandemic, which also lead to communities drifting apart. One of my greatest concerns is how to bring the different communities together again, how as a community radio station we can support a culture of solidarity.

Due to COVID-19, our finances are at risk as there are no new contracts for the informative radio reports which we used to produce as a service for NGOs. Advertising, too, has stopped. As a station manager I must take care of my team and explain to them the difficult situation we are facing. For now, we’ve adjusted our strategies and are doing research for international organizations on the extent of the disease in our region.

Which measures did you take to secure your funding— especially during the pandemic?

Adama Sougouri: Overall, we have decided to reduce as much expenditure as possible. This pandemic is a major financial challenge to all existing financing concepts. The most important thing is that we continue to pay our staff the already small fees so that they don’t go hungry. Of course, this was at the expense of content production. We also don’t do live reports in our broadcasting van anymore, as it is too expensive.

Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo: We have always had difficulties getting funds, but now this is even more so as the small street vendors and retailers who used to advertise with us have no income themselves. In terms of production, COVID-19 has affected every single show, as we can’t go out to the villages anymore. We try to speak to people on the phone, but many are too afraid of repercussions for them and their families. This means that rural voices are no longer being heard.

This also has a major negative effect on the station as a whole as people might feel that we no longer take them seriously. As a community radio station, our existence is based on being linked to the community. It’s important to provide relevant information to the audience. But it’s currently difficult to get interviews with experts and this then leads to the issue of the station’s credibility. For example, people contact the station to check misinformation they have received on COVID-19 via social media. Early on, we couldn’t provide a direct answer as we were unable to get an expert on the line. So, the listener would end up disappointed, and this affects our reputation. The credibility of community radio is extremely important. It depends on the professionalism of people working at the radio, our team knows what good quality is.

How important is your audience for your viability?

Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo: Long before COVID-19 we looked at ways to strengthen the viability of our radio station, starting with the sources of our income. At that time, the station received 70% of its annual income from donors and we realized that we had to change this. We started with capacity building, because who’s going to support us if we don’t produce good quality programs? But this wasn’t enough. Then we did a lot of monitoring and audience research to find out what the community needed. But this wasn’t enough either. Community radio means that we want to hear the voice of the community, so we introduced many interactive programs. COVID-19 is a big problem for us as we cannot talk directly to our community. So we also thought about how the community could support the station. Based on our analysis, we designed the flagship program, “24 hours in a village”, where we took a broadcasting van to some of the villages to report directly from there. These programs don’t just protect cultural aspects of the villages, they also brought us alternative income as people—street vendors, shop owners, intellectuals—paid us for advertising once they noticed the quality of our programs.

Does your close relationship with your listeners have a direct impact on your safety?

Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo: There are three examples that moved me a lot. The first one is in the context of climate change effects—extreme weather, storms, but also torrential rain that destroyed part of the station infrastructure as well as our equipment. What really touched me is that not only our partners supported us, but even our audience, many of whom are very poor, donated money for repairs. Another time, there was a rumor in the village that there might be terror attacks in our town. When one of our listeners received this information, he rushed to the station and told the moderator to lock the door. He wanted to protect his favorite radio host! The third example is related to COVID-19. One of our listeners, a teacher from a village nearby, worried about how staff of his favorite radio station were doing—he was worried because he knew that we can’t go outside. He sent us two bags of rice.

In Burkina Faso, violence is intensifying as a result of a multifaceted rural crisis. Do you feel the impact?

Adama Sougouri: With regard to the security situation, the three provinces in the northern part of the country, La Boucle du Mouhoun, Le Nord and Le Sahel—are highly affected by terrorist attacks. For us in Le Nord province security is therefore an important topic. A concrete example: In the north, bordering Mali, there is currently a curfew in place due to the presence of jihadists. But of course, if something happens, journalists must react, even if it happens at night and everyone, including journalists, is meant stay inside. Going out is very dangerous for reporters. We want them to be safe. We must then make a quick decision in consultation with the team and the journalists on site, whether the journalists stay overnight in a hotel despite the curfew or just get out very quickly and go back home.

Adama Sougouri: Insecurity is growing. Therefore conflict-sensitive journalism is extremely important. The journalists try to remain neutral and let the local population have their say. We are very careful in our area, because you never know who you are dealing with. No matter where you are, you never know if the person you’re talking to is involved in terrorism.

In all interviews we assume that we can never know the exact attitude of our interview partner. It is therefore very import that in a report about a village where many were killed, we stay neutral. We never say: we are on the side of the military and we should fight all terrorists. We simply present the facts. We let the people talk about their lives, so that we can understand where the possible sources of conflict might be. In the end, the point is that we all want a peaceful coexistence here. Quality journalism is extremely important, especially in precarious security situations.

Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo: Media outlets that have most difficulties are those with no proactive approach. Radio stations that haven’t realized that the community can also provide them with funds have come to the point where they are no longer able to pay their staff or the production costs. For us, it is also very important that we try to get people from the community involved and work with journalists from the communities. This pays off because they are more dedicated, they want to serve their community, they want to defend their community station as they understand how important it is.

What strategies do you consider important for the future of your community radio stations in order to survive these challenging times?

Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo: The credibility of the community radio station is very important, and this depends heavily on the professionalism of people working at the radio. We reported on COVID-19 from the beginning, how it affects your health, how to protect yourself. I wanted my entire team to know exactly what COVID-19 is about. One of our biggest successes is that we created a network of local correspondents who received capacity building in journalism to work more professionally. They had a key role as they were also trained in reporting on the pandemic and had the task of keeping the community informed. They were part of shows when local voices were presented.

Adama Sougouri: Despite the pandemic, the broadcasts must continue to be good so that the audience continues to listen to us. A few years ago, we started a network with local journalists. They have been properly trained in journalism and they now report from their communities and send their reports via WhatsApp. With the onset of the pandemic, we threw ourselves at these local journalists. They were educated about COVID-19 and were able to work not only as reporters, but also as educators about the disease. We adapted the broadcasts to the needs of the community. Although we cannot go out anymore, we got together with the representatives of our 500 listener clubs and explained that we could no longer finance their favorite live-reporting shows from the villages. Together we developed alternative programs like a phone-in quiz show on COVID-related topics, where there is always an expert present.

The reaction of our listeners to the adapted programs has been positive. As for COVID-19—we can already say that more people than before consider it a disease. Not only thanks to our reporting, but through education in general. Our station is the most popular radio station in the region, and we want to keep this pioneering role. That is not so easy without the fancy live broadcasts.

Jean-Baptiste Sawadogo is the Director of Radio Vénégré. He is an experienced manager with a broad range of expertise in the development sector, including advocacy training techniques, participatory monitoring and evaluation, social mobilization, community management, outcome measurements, gender and climate issues, nonviolent communication, and journalism training. Radio Vénégré is one of the most popular radio stations in its broadcasting region.


Adama Sougouri is Director of Radio La Voix du Paysan. The passionate radio journalist formerly worked as the manager of programming, as marketing manager, as a producer, and as trainer for high school student trainees. He is dedicated to conflict-solving journalism and has been honored with multiple awards, such as the Prix Galian for the best radio production in 2014 on conflicts between farmers and herders in the Nord Region.

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